Well, that’s a shame. This is issue 14 of the Wild Storm imprint’s flagship title, not 13 as indicated by the numbering on the cover*. A small mistake, you might think, but, when this comic manages to produce something approaching perfection most issues, not an insignificant one: a fly in this comic’s sweet-smelling ointment; a little fox to spoil an otherwise luxuriant and abundant vine. Still, that is a nice cover. The image of this version of Fairchild (Gen13) lifting a jeep one-handed above her head is a typically Davis-Huntian (Davis-Hunt-esque?) study in feminine power and understated menace. Last issue saw the Wild Storm universe expand in intriguing and unexpected ways. Can we expect more of the same this time round? Let’s find out…
Rather uncharacteristically for this title, this issue starts with a full-on action sequence. Following some minimal set-up in which Zealot returns to the offices of Skywatch’s Ground Division for a meeting, we’re plunged into a firefight involving Zealot and half a dozen members of an IO RazorCAT. One almost feels sorry for them. This is yet another combat scene from Ellis and Davis-Hunt that is, yet again, very different from the ones we’ve seen already. As acrobatic as John Colt and as brutally efficient with her handgun as Grifter, Zealot is here portrayed as an extraordinarily precise fighter but one not above using whatever is to hand to gain the advantage. Desks and computer monitors are flipped and tossed around with savage accuracy; Zealot leaps and tucks and rolls with deadly grace and a keen grasp of tactics. It’s breathtaking stuff that not only engages the reader on a visceral level, but also reveals a fair amount about everyone’s favourite alien assassin. This, though, is merely the pre-credits sequence, the overture for this issue’s main movements.
Zealot having neutralized the threat, she asks for a straight line to Skywatch HQ and the narrative shifts its focus to a garage out in the desert, the next stop on former IO chief John Lynch’s road trip. This encounter does not go as badly as last issue’s, but it still makes for uncomfortable reading. Alexandra Fairchild has undergone the same sort of process as Backlash, but, although she’s not as clearly insane as Marc Slayton, life has not gone exactly easily for her either. Her story is told through a powerful combination of extremely well-written dialogue and art that emphasises both her strength and emotional vulnerability. It is difficult not to come away from it feeling some sort of connection with the character, and Lynch’s decision to turn his pickup round and go back to her arguably mirrors the reader’s desire to see more of her too. Whether Lynch is too late or not is something about which we’ll have to wait to find out, but this is hands down the strongest section of the comic book.
In terms of engagement, the issue takes a little bit of a dip with the following conversation between Miles Craven and a spittle-projecting Henry Bendix, the short scene featuring Jenny Mei Sparks, Shen and Jack Hawksmoor, and, finally, the encounter between Slayton and a Skywatch operative. Although that last section does feature some genuinely creepy dialogue. The writing, however, is clear, engaging and entertaining enough to mitigate the sense that, once again, Ellis is moving his pieces on the board in preparation for a larger confrontation further down the road. At this point in the series, to complain about that would be churlish. The members of the creative team have delivered on every single one of their hooks, hints and storylines to date. I fully expect them to do something majestic (or, possibly, Majestic) with the current story too.
Action, touching character introduction and development, conflict, confrontation and moments that border on horror: this issue features a wide range of elements, but Ellis and Davis-Hunt seem to have little difficulty in making them all fit into an emerging whole. As a result, the slight dip in emotional connection towards the end notwithstanding, this is a top quality issue in a top quality series.
* As far as I know, this is a mistake that appears only to have afflicted the review copies. It seems it was corrected for the released version of the issue.
(This review first appeared on the Weird Science DC Comics website.)